A good knife can make all the difference, for utility and for self-defense.
But as anyone who has actually carried a knife for work can tell you, not all knives are made equal.
Everyone knows that the Ka-Bar combat knife is one of the gold standards for knives, but Ka-Bar makes a whole range of knives now — so are they any good?
Branching out from the standard combat knife, we’re going take a close look at a range of Ka-Bars to see how the rest of their line up fairs.
Read on and you’ll discover my favorite Ka-Bars (and maybe your next EDC)!
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock since World War 2 — here is a quick rundown on Ka-Bars.
Really the story starts with World War 1 and the Mark 1 Trench Knife. Possibly the coolest looking military issued knife since the time of the Romans, it is also kind of… crapy.
Expensive to make, cumbersome to use, too brittle for a utility knife, and did not allow for very much versatility in combat handling. But it wouldn’t be until after World War 2 that we finally replaced it.
Enter: The Ka-Bar.
Designed in 1942, adopted in 1944, the Ka-Bar has served in every American theatre of war since. From Korea to Kosovo, the Fall of Saigon to Fallujah, where American warfighters have gone — so has the Ka-Bar.
With that legendary pedigree in mind, can the rest of their products live up to expectations?
Best KA-BAR Knives
1. Short Ka-Bar
It should come to no surprise that the classic Ka-Bar combat knife is on this list… kind of.
If you need to fight a bear or an insurgent, the full-sized 7″ Ka-Bar is the knife to choose. But for the rest of us, it’s a bit much.
The Ka-Bar Short is exactly what the name says, all of the ruggedness of the real thing just smaller dimensions.
Made in the USA and featuring a 5.25″ 1095 Cro-Van blade, this is hands-down one of my favorite camp knives if I’m feeling classic. It’s large enough to be useful, but small enough to not get in the way.
This is modeled after the more modern Ka-Bar featuring a Kraton G handle that is grippy even when wet.
It even comes with a MOLLE compatible sheath that is functional and well made, not pretty to look at but that’s okay.
2. Adventure Potbelly
Do you need a knife that you can pull out and say “This is a knife”?
Well then, this Potbelly is the knife for you.
Coming in at a monstrous 7.25″ long, 0.25″ thick, with a 1095 Cro-Van blade and a huge belly — this is a workhorse knife, period.
It’s also just too big.
I admit I bought this knife because it looked cool. After using it though… it still looks cool, but it actually has a purpose also.
For backpacking, I always take a survival knife with me. A large knife that can chop, cut, split, and more. But this is a knife that lives in my pack, not on my person.
The huge belly on the Potbelly moves the weight of the knife forward and really does make chopping easier while the highly textured grip ensures you don’t send it flying.
Carrying this beast of a knife is impractical at best, so it’s best left at the bottom of your pack until you actually need it. Alternatively, it does come with a great MOLLE seath. The sheath is every bit as durable as the knife, but it’s also on the heavy side.
Mine also came with this small extra knife that I’ve come to call “Small Boi”.
Its real name is the Adventure Piggyback, but that’s a silly name. So far I have found it to be utterly useless.
Ka-Bar claims it is “perfect for skinning small game” but I haven’t bagged a squirrel to test it out on and I don’t plan to anytime soon. The Small Boi is well made and basically comes free with the Potbelly, but for me it isn’t a selling point.
But if you find yourself in a knife fight with a small rabbit or maybe a large rat, you can keep this on you just in case.
3. Folding Hunter
A more classic knife from a more civilized age.
The Folding Hunter is a throwback style that your grandfather likely carried as his EDC. But today feels a little dated.
However, Ka-Bar has done a nice job of updating this knife while keeping the retro-soul intact. Featuring G10 grips instead of wood and a reversible pocket clip, these are small nods to the modern age.
A feature or flaw depending on how you want to look at it is the blade material. Made of 5Cr15 Stainless Steel, this is on the softer side for steels.
But since it is a slightly softer steel, it takes a really nice edge and is very easy to sharpen. Using a good set of wet stones, I’ve been able to put an outstanding edge on this blade.
Opening the blade is smooth, but closing it is a bit clunky since it uses a straight lock in the back of the handle.
I don’t really like this style of lock since it’s hard to work without putting your fingers where they might get cut if you’re not careful and it’s effectively impossible to work one-handed.
If you need to cut boxes all day, this isn’t a great option. But if you’re looking for a classy knife to keep with you for the occasional use from tape to fish to whittling a stick, you can’t go wrong with a Folding Hunter.
4. Coypu Folder
For years I’ve carried a simple Kershaw knife as my EDC, but I wanted to upgrade and my hope was that the Coypu would be with me for the next several years.
After giving it a couple of weeks in my pocket, I’ve decided to try something else. Partly because 5.11 sent me a cool prototype knife to try out, but mostly because the Coypu is a great knife that is just a little too heavy for EDC.
Featuring a glass breaker and a seatbelt cutter, this knife doesn’t lack features. But features add weight.
While I didn’t try cutting any seatbelts, I did use the seatbelt cutter on other materials and found it to work outstandingly.
The steel is 5Cr15 stainless, the grips G10, and the blade is 3.75″ long making the whole package almost 9″ when deployed.
Everything about the Coypu is thick, a little overbuilt, and well made. It fits my hand nicely and the blade strikes a nice mix of being small enough to be handy, but large enough and thick enough to muscle through most tasks.
I did have one major issue though, but I can’t tell if it is a design problem or a manufacturing one.
If you open the knife with motivation, such as with a flick of the wrist, the blade will overtravel the lock and get stuck on a ledge.
Once caught, I can’t get it unstuck without something solid to wedge in there and force it.
If I was looking for a duty knife, I would recommend the Coypu — but also check your knife for the overtravel issue. If you know about it, it’s not a problem.
Since I’m not in a duty role, I keep mine in the center console of my vehicle right next to an IFAK.
5. Black MULE
This is actually my second Mule and possibly my favorite knife from Ka-bar.
If you want a lightweight, handy EDC knife, this isn’t it. If you want an EDC knife that you can also use as a hammer and will literally survive anything, the Mule is amazing.
Weighing in at almost a full half-pound the Mule has some gravity to it. A 3.8″ blade made of AUS-8A Stainless Steel, it takes a great edge and is durable over long use.
My first Mule I used while working at a summer camp. 14+ hour days, 6 days a week, 8 weeks long. The amount of abuse I put that poor Mule through in such a short time should have destroyed most other knives.
But while my coworkers were replacing their knife mid-summer, my Mule survived. All the way until the last couple of days of summer when my Mule walked off…
Ka-Bar offers the mule in a wide range of grips, serrated and non-serrated, and blade profiles. Personally, the Black Mule with a straight edge and a clip point is my pick.
6. USMC Ka-Bar
The legend itself. Ask any Marine and they will tell you that the Ka-Bar is one of the best knives ever made, and they would be right.
But that doesn’t always make it the best knife for you.
While I love my Ka-Bar, I almost never actually use it. As a survival knife, it is very basic and a little lacking in the chopping department, a feature I require from mine.
Since I’ve never been in a knife fight and probably never will, the combat aspect of the Ka-Bar is lost on me.
The fact remains though that the Ka-Bar is a knife that works. Made in the USA with a 7″ 1095 Cro-Van blade, this is a knife that you can depend on with your life — literally.
It also enjoys a huge aftermarket making finding a sheath that you love relatively easy. And since it is nearly indestructible, it’s a knife that you can pass down to the kids knowing they will get decades of use out of it.
The Single Mark Ka-Bar with its leather-wrapped handle is the true classic, but if you want to actually use your Ka-bar effectively I would recommend the slightly more modern version with a Kraton G handle.
Leather is nice to look at but slippy in your hand when wet. Kraton G ensures your knife stays with you no matter what.
What’s your take on the OG Ka-Bar?
The Ka-Bar brand was built on the back of the Ka-Bar knife, in fact, they even renamed their company after the legendary knife.
While many other brands have been bought out or taken over by bean counters and accountants, Ka-Bar remains dedicated to making great knives at reasonable prices.
While they might not be the lightest weight or the prettiest to look at, you can always be sure that your Ka-Bar won’t fail.
What knife do you EDC? have any cool stories with your Ka-Bar? Let us know in the comments! If you’re ready to take your knife game in a weird direction, take a look at the Best Neck Knives!